Writer Reality Check
Okay, if you are a fan of this blog, you know I am all about helping writers. Part of how I help is that you can count on me for the unvarnished truth. I know there are a lot of people who believe they want to be writers. Hey, rock on! The more the weirder…I meant merrier. Yes…merrier.
Where was I? Oh yeah.
But, I do feel that our profession tends to get glamorized, and hopeful writers aren’t aware of what to expect. So when something comes flying at them from left field, they are unprepared and watching fire ants roam over their tennis shoes instead of catching that giant hurdling ball headed straight for their head (Ooh! Just had a flashback. Did I mention that I sucked at sports?)
So before you make that New Year’s Resolution to become a writer, finish a novel, take your craft more seriously there are some things to consider. First, if you just enjoy writing for fun and merely want to finish a novel to test and see if you can do it, all that follows does not apply to you. But, if you happen to be among that group who dreams of landing an agent, being published and becoming a successful author, I am going to give you a run-down of what to expect so you don’t get caught unawares.
That most people will not take you seriously. If you are waiting for your friends and family to line up and pat you on the back and throw you a parade, you will be sorely disappointed. In fact, when they see how euphorically happy you are, just expect for them to assume your writing group is really a cult and stage an intervention. Likely they will call in experts who perform deprogramming for loved ones lost to devil worshippers, Scientology, or that new retread of the Branch Davidians in south Texas. So look out for any white panel vans, and never leave your drinks unattended. You could wake up in a dark room wrapped in blankets going through a “rebirthing” procedure where you come into this world wanting to be an engineer instead of a writer.
When people ask what you do, you need to tell them, “I am an author” or “I am a writer.” Even if you don’t have your book finished. This is going to sting. As long as you introduce yourself via your day job, that is what you are telling your subconscious that you want to be FOREVER. “I’m an administrative assistant.” Well, I hope you like that job because that statement is forming your identity. Don’t even try to cheat with “I am an aspiring writer.” Again, that is a subconscious cue, and twenty years later you will still be “aspiring.” Just go practice in the mirror and say a hundred times. “I am an author. I am an author.”
If you want others to shut up and stop mocking you, just tell them they better knock it off because there is a part for a cross-dressing hermaphrodite who dies in a tragic blow-up doll accident in your novel. Then they will likely play nice.
You are a professional writer. To quote the brilliant Yoda, “There is no try, only do.” Most people feel guilty saying they are a writer because they never write. In that case, you should feel guilty. Go nail your can to a chair and bust out at least a blog, you slacker. You are a writer, not an aspiring anything other than maybe an aspiring NY Times best-selling author. Then you have my permission to use the adjective aspiring. For all other times?
Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer.
Yes, other people will titter and roll their eyes, but you won’t care. In the meantime, toughen up. You will need the skin of a rhino in this business. Do not look for outside approval. That is about as productive as looking for unicorns or Sasquatch.
To steal from the brilliant author Chuck Wendig, “Writing is not a parade of peppermint puppies.” It is work. So here are some other things to expect go with the job. Even professional authors cannot write eight hours a day. There are other important tasks that go with being an author that often will feel more like goofing off. Just have to get over it. I can spot writers who do not perform these routine duties, because their writing…um, sucks. Mine did too. I used to think doing these tasks was “wasting time.” My prose suffered. You know what real wasting time is? Writing crap. So to make your work better and better…
We need to read. This is essential. The best writers are avid readers. I read a fiction and a non-fiction a week. One best-selling novel (genre doesn’t matter) and one craft book. I walk around with my Nook in my purse. Standing in line at Target? Pick the long line and read five pages. Waiting at the doctor? The bank? Getting a pedicure? Make use of that time. Read. I read for 40 minutes on the elliptical at the gym. The Nook’s ability to have giant font keeps me from throwing up and falling off.
And I highly recommend using one the single greatest inventions of modern man…the Post-It Highlighter (not on your Nook/Kindle, but on the paper books).
We need to watch a lot of movies. The editor’s mantra is Show. Don’t tell. How do you learn to do that? Study. Watch actors. How do they portray the vast spectrum of human motion? How do they portray characters? Study dialogue. Absorb speech patterns. Study structure. This is a faster method than reading. Study how the screenwriter raised the stakes. Why did the movie work? Why didn’t it? This isn’t as much a substitute for reading as it is an addition to reading. But we can watch movies with friends and family and yet still be “working.”
How did the director portray normal world? Darkest moment? Study endings. You get the idea. Few jobs can claim that spending the day watching movies is actually work. So enjoy.
We must blog. Blogging creates good habits, and it is in the job description of the 21st century author. We can gripe and moan all we want, but that doesn’t change reality. Reality is that writers with a platform are going to be more successful than writers who expect NY to do everything for them. If you want to become a professional writer then you should love writing anyway so this shouldn’t be as big of a deal as most writers make it. Suck it up and put on Big Girl/Big Boy Pants. In the coming weeks I will be teaching you guys on Wednesdays what to blog about. This is usually the biggest stumbling block, but now I am here so no more excuses. I am going to make this FUN!
We need to spend time on social media. This is like the watching movies and reading thing. Yes, being on social media is work. Now if we are just goofing off and sending people farm animals then yes we are goofing off. But if we are blogging and spending time on Twitter and FB networking with other writers and published authors and people in the publishing industry, that is called marketing.
Additionally, I have found some of the best articles and blogs on the craft via Twitter and other bloggers. Social media gives us countless tools to improve our skills daily.
We need to write. Eventually all of this boils down to what it is we do…we write. As I said earlier, we cannot always be writing and the writing part, while the most important, doesn’t take up the most time. Reading, planning, researching, outlining, editing, revising, marketing are all parts of the job, too. Yet, ultimately, we need to sit our keisters down and WRITE. Not rocket-science here.
We need to learn to employ tough love. I can tell you from experience that you will have to be tough with friends and family. They aren’t used to you having a second job. They will miss you being around all the time, and they will need to be retrained. And I am telling you now that they will not “get” you so don’t expect them to. Just be kind and consistent, and if they still don’t get the hint, invest in a caffeinated meth-addicted ferret to guard the door for you while you write.
Being a writer can be a lot of fun. Like I said, part of our job is to create and watch movies and read great stories, but it comes at a price. First, you will likely meet resistance, and might even be openly mocked. It may be a good idea to introduce your plans to your family in the following way:
“Hey, I sold all our worldly belongings, and the VW van will be here in the morning to take us to live at the Prophet’s commune in New Mexico. Your names are now Rainbow and Starchild. Ha ha ha ha, just kidding. Mommy wants to become a writer.”
Regardless how you break the news, it needs to be done.
Being a writer is tough work, but it is a whole lot of fun. What are some other things a writer should expect? Add your opinion. I could have made this list much longer, but I figured I would let you guys chime in. I love hearing from you.
Happy writing! Until next time…
Remember to tune in on Monday for more on the craft of writing. This Monday is Part SEVEN of my structure series. Have a computer full of half-finished novels? A solid understanding of structure will help. Write leaner, meaner and faster.
Also tune in on Wednesday for the next in my series to teach you guys how to blog in ways to build your author platform.
Now for the blatant self-promo. My book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media lays out a step-by-step plan that is:
- FREE—I appreciate that most writers are BROKE. Aside from the cost of the book, your home computer and Internet connection, every tactic in my book is completely FREE
- FAST—If you are super motivated, it will take you a day to build your platform’s foundation. This foundation will give you roots on the top social media sites and link them together to where they feed each other.
- EASY—I tested this book on my 60 year-old mother who was afraid she would delete the Internet if she hit the wrong button. She now rules Facebook. Befriend her at your peril.
- LOW MAINTENANCE—Aside from writing blogs, which I highly recommend that you blog, you can build and maintain a platform in less than a half hour a day. The way I teach you makes you work smarter, not harder. You have blogs and best-selling books to write!
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